You can call the Santa Barbara court clerk to find out about e-filing. You are correct that regardless of ny settlement negotiations, you must file an Answer to the Summons & Complaint. It is not important to state in your Answer that you are attempting to settle the case. You just send that letter on the side. If it settles, you will ask the Plaintiff to file a Dismissal With Prejudice to end the lawsuit. Good luck.
I am licensed in California only and my answers on Avvo assume California law. The above answer is for general information only and is based on the information you posted. Every case is fact dependent, so to get a thorough analysis of your situation, you will need to consult face to face with an attorney licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the incident took place. Do not conclusively rely on any information posted online when deciding what to do about your case. No attorney-client relationship shall be created through the use reading of this response on Avvo. You should never delay seeking legal advice, disregard legal advice, or commence or discontinue any legal action because of information in this response.
you need to make sure that you file a timely answer to the complaint. The amount you owe may not be 4k when you add in court costs, attorney fees, interest and so forth. I would contact a lawyer such as myself who is experienced with debt collection matters to assist you in resolving the matter. Good luck.
I have handled a number of these matters and in my experience the creditor will typically extend your time to respond to the Complaint if you are in legitimate settlement negotiations with them. Be sure to get any extension in writing, and if i goes beyond two weeks you will need to get a court order approving the extension.
You must timely answer the Complaint or you can be defaulted and have a default judgment entered against you. Also, if you admit all of the allegations there is nothing to stop the creditor from moving for judgment on the pleadings or summary judgment and obtaining the full settlement amount. Do not miss your deadline to respond to the Complaint.
The above is general legal analysis. It is not "legal advice" but analysis, and different lawyers may analyze this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in the question. The above response does not create an attorney/client relationship. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. See also avvo.com terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here